Kendal goes 'baa-rmy' for wool as hundreds flock to town for weekend event (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Kendal goes 'baa-rmy' for wool as hundreds flock to town for weekend event
KENDAL has been going baa-rmy for its long lost wool heritage as hundreds flocked to town today for a unique new event.
The three-day Kendal Wool Gathering - the first of its kind - saw K-Village packed out.
Starting yesterday and continuing on Sunday, there is a new mood of optimism about celebrating one of the town's oldest industries against a national clamour for all things wool.
Kendal was once the main centre for the process and marketing of wool in what is now Cumbria, and an enthusiastic team of new blood is hoping to capitalise on its revival.
Fittingly, Kendal Mayor Coun Sylvia Emmott used a pair of sheep shears to cut a length of wool to open proceedings.
She told the Gazette: "I think it's absolutely brilliant what these people have done to make this event happen.
"We need to be proud of our heritage and it must have taken hours and hours of work getting all these stall holders. I've spoken to people from Dumfries and to people from Norwich.
"I hope it's an amazing success and goes on to become an annual event."
Unpaid volunteers - acting without any major financial support save for a £1250 grant from Kendal Town Council - helped pull the well attended event off.
Organiser Adrian Swenson said he was extremely pleased by attendances so far on both Friday and Saturday.
Another of the organisers involved is Mike Glover, the former editor of The Westmorland Gazette and now a media consultant and freelance journalist for a number of national newspapers.
Mr Glover said: "Wool has had an amazing resurgence with knitting, wool shops and tweed being very popular especially in the London fashion houses. It seemed to be the right time to remind Kendal of its wool heritage.
"These days, the Lake District and Kendal areas are famous for its sheep and we need to reassert the link between the fells, the sheep and the wool trade. Hopefully by raising awareness of our links with wool we can get a better price for the farmers."
It's a theory supported by Alison O'Neill, famed as the barefoot Shepherdess. She has 200 old Kendal Rough Fell sheep at her Shacklabank Farm in the Howgills near Sedbergh.
Dressed head-to-toe in British tweed, Mrs O'Neill was minding her stall at the dedicated Wool Market and will give a talk at her farm tomorrow.
She explained: "Three years ago, I burnt my wool because the price was so low and I saw no point of it going to the Wool Marketing Board. It was costing £1.50 for a clip and all we were getting was 16p-a-fleece back."
However, Mrs O'Neill has now partnered with a friend to create a new Cumbrian wool brand called Herdwick, which specialises in products like bags and rucksacks, but also modern wool creations such as holders for iPads and iPhones.
The brand features the H symbol - in a nod to how Lake District children's author and hill farmer, Beatrix Potter and husband William Heelis, used to brand their own Herdwick flock.
Mrs O'Neill added: "Wool is undergoing a massive resurgence. I was down in London recently and all it was, was tweed, wool, knitting. It's really coming back and people are also looking for that Made In Great Britain sign of quality."
As well as stalls, talks, walks, demos, live sheep and Alpaca exhibitions and examples of wool art, Kirkland's Williams Wools, Kendal Hostel and social enterprise recycling movement, Homespun in Kendal, have all been getting involved.
Tourist expert Tess Pike - a Cumbria Blue Badge guide - also led a guided wool walk and there have been spinning and knitting sessions at the Abbot Hall social club.
In the K-Shoe Heritage Centre in the shopping centre, there was barely a spare seat for a talk by local historian, Roger Bingham, which happens again tomorrow.
He told of how Kendal's wool heritage grew out of the town's cloth and textile industry.
"Wool and cloth are major strands in the social history of Kendal," said Mr Bingham.
He explained that evidence of the area's textile and wool links could be found in its place names and buildings like Tenterfell, Shearman House, Ye Olde Fleece Inn and Woolpack Yard.
In the 16th century, the export of wool and cloth was hugely important to Kendal with a single farm in the year 1577 having 4,200-plus sheep.
Ships laden with local cloth also sailed from the Port of Milnthorpe in 1638 for the likes of Barbados and Jamaica.
Mr Bingham pointed out that wool and cloth had been eclipsed over the years by more famous products like Kendal Mintcake and K-Shoe, but were rooted in the town's identity.
The original motto of the Kendal Town Corporation - now Kendal Town Council - is "Wool is my bread," while Kendal Carpets were 'as famous as Axminster' and tools from the industry feature in the Coat of Arms and Mayoral chains.
In one unit of the shopping centre, over 5,000 woolly Sheep pom-poms were on display while senior residents gave a steady procession of young children lessons in how to make them in an inter-generational project.
Avid crocheter, Yvonne Cosler, from Kendal, said: "People have been coming and coming and coming. It has never stopped, there hasn't been a quiet moment even at lunchtime.
"Age UK South Lakeland have supplied a lot of the helpers and they have mingled really nicely with the kids."
Katherine Newell, 12, from Holme, had been making some pom poms too. She said: "I enjoyed helping people. When you start off making one it's a bit tricky but you get used to it. Everyone has enjoyed making them and some have decided to make them at home now as well."
The event continues tomorrow and to see the full programme of activities, go to http://www.kendalwoolgathering.co.uk/programme
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